We all know that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on social media, but while it might be expected that people only post the most flattering photos and they might edit out a spot or two, it’s not just the images and caption that aren’t genuine. Fake engagement is common on Instagram and other social media platforms, but does that mean it’s ok?

Stock Canva image of an influencer taking a picture of food
Don't believe everything you see on social media, it is easy to fake everything including engagement

Understanding Fake Engagement On Social Media

What Is Fake Engagement and How Do People Do It? 

It is pretty easy to artificially increase your follower numbers, likes and comments on posts across all social platforms. Lots of accounts from big celebrities and brands to wannabe influencers just starting out have used techniques to make them look more successful and established than they are. It can make brands more interested in working with accounts and it can encourage genuine followers as people will assume the content is good if there are lots of followers already. I have previously shared some of the ways you can spot fake engagement on Instagram.

The Main Ways People Artificially Inflate Followers And Engagement

Buying Followers and Likes

There are countless agencies who will sell you followers or likes. You can easily find them by searching on the internet or by going on sites like Fiverr (although sometimes it is worded more subtly). The accounts of the followers are normally set up solely for the purpose and are not genuine active accounts. It doesn't cost much and you can buy 1000 followers for £10 or less, but while it would boost the number of people who follow you, those accounts wont ever engage with you in the future. This can then lead to people buying likes so there is some engagement on posts.

Many of the agencies use words like genuine and organic, but if they are instantly sending followers or likes your way this is not organic and their definition of a genuine account clearly differs to mine.

Pods and Engagement Groups

Pods, Instants, Engagement Groups, Support Groups, there are lots of description and they all work in slightly different ways, but essentially there are groups of people who mutually support each other by engaging with each others posts. Sometimes these will be via a hashtag, but normally people will share a link when they post so everyone else can click through and like it or comment.

Follow Loops/ Trains

You have probably seen these on Instagram or received messages from recruiters. They generally work by a host temporarily adding a post to their grid where they ask people to follow them, sometimes tag others and to comment so that people can follow you (and you are expected to follow them back). While these can be a good way to find people in the same niche as you, most of the people joining in are more interested in growing their accounts than engaging with you going forwards.


This is controversial opinion, but arguably if you run giveaways on your account where people have to follow you as a method of entry you are artificially increasing your follow numbers. This is because you are incentivising people to follow you who might not choose to otherwise and if the prize is attractive enough it can lead to a large number of followers who just want the prize and aren’t interested in your normal content or products. The giveaways aren’t always hosted on the social media platform, companies and bloggers often run giveaways on their websites asking for social media follows and engagement on posts as a method to enter the giveaway.

Giveaways can be a useful way to grow your audience if the prize is niche enough so it will only interest your target audience. In contrast an Amazon voucher will appeal to everyone and has a similar affect to buying followers. Yes the followers will be active accounts, but there is no guarantee they will keep following you or that they will ever engage in your future posts.

The Risks of Buying Likes and Faking Engagement 

Loss of Account 

You risk losing your account if you breach any of the social media platforms guidelines, this includes giving someone else access to your account or "unusual activity". You may also increase the risk of having your account hacked or hijacked. 

Lack of Sales

If you grow your account by inorganic methods then you are unlikely to have an interested following who will engage with you. Whether you are a business who want to sell a product or an influencer who would like to make money though your account eg with affiliate sales it is far more important to have genuine followers who are interested in you than big numbers. An account with 1000 engaged followers can make more sales than an account with 20k followers who are a mixture of real, fake and uninterested. 

Reduced Engagement 

If your followers are not your target audience you risk having low engagement on your posts. The algorithms across all platforms normally work by showing your post to a small number of your followers soon after your publish. They look at how those followers respond before deciding how widely to push it out. If people spend a long time looking at the post, if they comment, like, save or share posts it is considered good content and will be shown to lots more people. If the followers that initially see the post don’t engage with it less people will be shown it.


One of the most common reasons “influencers” will fake or artificially increase engagement is to encourage brands to work with them and to make them look good when they publish an AD.  So many people do this that many brands don’t realise what a normal level of engagement is meaning that anyone working on a campaign who doesn’t “fake it” can look bad. Ultimately though this could be fraud and illegal if the engagement is not genuine. While even some PR agencies don’t seem bothered, somewhere down the line there is a business who is trying to increase sales or awareness and they are being cheated.

Breach of Contract 

A growing number of agencies and brands have contracts when they work with Influencers and Bloggers which state that engagement shouldn't be artificially inflated. Some of these contracts also ask you to state that you have NEVER artificially inflated your account in any way. Of course they would need to prove it, but technically you could not be paid if they found out and they could demand additional costs too. 

Is It Ever Ok To Boost Likes and Follows?

The key thing to think about is if the action you are taking is misleading people. If a brand wants to work with you and they think they are getting access to a large audience that isn't genuine then that is misleading. If you are paid to create and share a post and the likes are not from accounts that would naturally engage with the post you are misleading the brand. 

Encouraging your followers to engage with your account is fine, after all we all know the algorithm sucks at times so for instance you might ask people who view your stories to go and visit a grid post. You might ask people following you on one platform to like you on another. This is essentially good marketing and encouraging your audience to see posts that might have been otherwise missed.  

There are many Facebook groups of similar business, influencers and bloggers where people occasionally ask for help engaging with a post. If it’s just for the occasional post and you are encouraging people who are your natural audience to see a post then there might be little harm in it as long as there isn't expected reciprocation.

I believe that buying likes and follows is unethical and I struggle to see any justification for it, especially if you are currently or ever plan to work with brands. Likewise a pod or group where people wont even look at the picture or read the caption before they like a post will not benefit the customer. There are also programmes that can auto like posts, again removing the actual audience so it will not benefit the brand you are promoting.

If you are bringing a post to more people who are genuinely the intended audience and they are going to read the post then there isn’t any harm. It’s arguably not in the spirit of social media, but ultimately if it could genuinely lead to more sales then it can be justified.

If you are a business who sells directly to customers the generally fake engagement will lead to less genuine customers seeing your posts and it's likely to reduce sales. It's mostly just your own business that you could cause problems for so it's your choice.

Alternative Ways to Increase Your likes and Follower Numbers on Social Media

The 3 main ways to grow on social media is to have: good content, use hashtags well and to engage with others. You might be lucky and get a shout out by a large account or a post that goes viral, but you can't rely on that. If you are struggling to put the time in to grow your account then other methods you could try are:

Follow Unfollow

I don't advocate follow unfollow (where you follow accounts in the hope that they follow you back and then you unfollow them shortly afterwards) but it is a proven technique for growing your follower numbers. Unfortunately it risks annoying people and it’s considered rude, but it’s better than buying followers. This is a service offered by several agencies. If you do try it don't follow or unfollow too many people at a time or your account will be restricted (particularly an issue on Instagram).

Review Your Strategy

Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes to review your account and talk you through how to move forwards. This can be particularly useful if you feel you have lost your way or you can't work out why your account isn't growing. This is one of the services Toucan Grow Digital offers.

Hire A Social Media Manager

One of the best ways to grow your social media accounts (as well as having great content) is to engage with other accounts. This brings you to their attention and encourages them to check out your account, sometimes leading to them following you if they like what they see. If you don’t have time to do this yourself then you can hire a social media manager or Virtual Assistant to do the engagement for you (but do make clear what you want them to do as there are some who will use less authentic growth methods). Read this post to find out if hiring a Social Media Manager could help you and what else they can help with.

Paid Ads

All social media networks let you pay them to boost your posts so they are seen by a wider audience. This wont always be cost effective, but it is an authentic way to get more likes on posts (and sometimes follows) because the audience gets to choose whether they want to engage with your post or not. If your content isn't good quality or well targeted then it still wont perform well.